Monday, November 25, 2013

On Being Human, Small, and Vulnerable

Those of us who had the chance to attend one of the two sessions given by the division’s distinguished speaker at the American Translators Association  54th Annual Conference, which was held in San Antonio a few weeks ago, were in for quite a treat. I went to John Moffitt’s cleverly titled lecture “Earth Extinction Events: History and Future.” As someone with a keen interest in astronomy and physics, I thought that this session might be interesting and might remind me why I wisely chose not to major in physics in college (because it turns out I wasn’t good enough at math, but I digress). The highly approachable astrophysicist with 45 years’ experience fulfilled my expectations and gave a clear and concise overview of bad things that have happened, can happen and will happen to our planet due to outside forces that humans can’t control—contrary to what is frequently depicted in Hollywood movies. If I recall correctly, he called the movie Armageddon “the dumbest movie in the history of the universe.” Quick to smile and endlessly patient with the audience’s many interesting questions, Moffitt is a speaker who is not only highly knowledgeable and well-known in his field, but also has the ability to entertain while teaching us a thing or two (or five hundred). Plus, he presented a well-designed PowerPoint presentation with many embedded graphics, cool NASA projections, and even a movie or two.

So what did I learn? A great deal of things. Moffitt presented a concise summary of the science behind the end of the world, and it was a fascinating and scary world. It will come to an end, but it’s just a question of when. There is one question I could not keep out of my head. A colleague asked what could have happened to a dinosaur that hadn’t been wiped out by the initial asteroid (“big rock” in Moffitt speak) that did in fact kill the dinosaurs. Would he or she have survived? With his characteristic quick wit, Moffitt responded that things wouldn’t have turned out too well for said dinosaur, because all food would have been gone, the planet’s temperature would have been altered, and well, there are only so many dead dinosaurs you can eat before they rot. When the earth’s time comes, the impact of the asteroid will create a tidal wave that will essentially liquefy the planet, and there would be no possible-survivor scenarios. For now, we should all be grateful to the moon, which has been impacted by many a rock that could have hit earth.

In general, the presentation was a friendly reminder how fragile a planet we live on. This was elegantly demonstrated by a number of impressive images, including one showing just how much water we have. Turns out it’s much less than we think: it only covers about half of the US, and that includes salt water. I also enjoyed the animation about how small our planet is compared to other stars and planets. I’d recently seen an impressive model of this at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, but Moffitt’s computer animation really drove home the sense of scale, especially once we saw an animation of the largest known star (VY Canis Majoris), which would take 1,100 years to circle in an airplane traveling 900 kilometers per hour.

Another friendly reminder: Turns out we are not the center of the universe. We knew that, but it’s nice to see some scientific proof that the world does not revolve around or human race and certainly not our planet in general. Another memorable quote was, “We are all made of star stuff,” meaning that we are all made of elements formed by stars. If a star hadn’t exploded, we wouldn’t be here. And another interesting piece of information was that we don’t have very many stars in our neighborhood, really—“it’s like a vacuum here.” One of the things that impressed me the most was John’s ability to put scientific data and tidbits into language non-scientists like me can understand. In terms of the approaching earth extinction event, Moffitt’s tongue-in-cheek advice is: Get a tinfoil helmet and wear it! He revealed that his is duck-shaped and encouraged us to start designing ours. Maybe mine will be dictionary-shaped. When asked what asteroids are made out of, John replied that it could be stone, carbon, or nickel-iron, but emphasized that when the asteroid hits us, “we won’t care what it’s made out of.”

At the end, as the speaker received his well-deserved applause, I felt humbled and small by the size of the ever-expanding universe. We all know how big the universe is and how infinitely small we are, but it’s a nice reminder and reality check to hear it from someone who has the scientific background to put this all in perspective. And let’s enjoy this planet earth while we still have it, because it’s not going to last forever.

John Moffitt, Science and Technology Division Distinguished Speaker, and Division Administrator Karen Tkaczyk

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

ATA54 Division Meeting Minutes

The 54th annual conference was a great success, with a strong offering of sessions in the Science and Technology track. In the coming weeks, we plan to post reviews of sessions here for those who were unable to attend. We hope to see all our readers next November in Chicago!

Below are the minutes from our division annual meeting:

American Translators Association
Science and Technology Division
Annual Meeting
Friday, November 8, 2013
San Antonio, Texas, USA (Marriott Rivercenter, Salon A)

Division Administrator Karen Tkaczyk called the meeting to order at 12:37 pm.
The agenda was presented. There were no objections to the agenda; it was accepted.

Karen Tkaczyk thanked the nominating committee, Abigail Dahlberg and Salvador Virgen, for their work in searching for and contacting potential nominees for the post of division administrator and assistant administrator. The nominating committee selected Karen Tkaczyk, who ran for a second term as administrator, and Alicja Yarborough, who ran for the post of assistant administrator. Both candidates were accepted in uncontested elections and will serve for two years.

The members of the leadership council were introduced:
Matthew Schlecht (outgoing assistant administrator)
Stephanie Delozier Strobel (event coordinator)
Tess Whitty (blog editor)
Amy Lesiewicz (blog editor)
Nicholas Hartmann
Iryna Ashby (webmaster)
Petra Schweitzer
Lebzy Gonzalez
Susanna Weerth

The leadership council members serve for a term of one year. Karen Tkaczyk will soon contact current leadership council members, asking them to continue serving in their current positions; and potential members, inviting them to join the leadership council. She invited anyone interested to contact any member of the leadership council.

Division members were invited to submit content to the division blog. Posts may be new or republished content on any topic that may be of interest to division members or readers of the division blog. There are no submission deadlines or restrictions or requirements involving word count. The blog editors will be happy to suggest editorial changes, but the author will be given last say and nothing will be published without the author’s consent. Non-native speakers of English are invited to submit content as well; we will provide editing by native English speakers, and we appreciate how different perspectives can enrich our blog. We will be happy to include a brief bio on the author and a link to the author’s website, LinkedIn profile, or other appropriate site. Each post is viewed approximately 100–650 times, and the blog receives over 1,500 views per month. Please email submissions or questions to blog editor Amy Lesiewicz (

In other activity, the division website is updated every month and is a hub for all division matters. There are links to the Yahoo group (division listserv), Facebook group, LinkedIn group, Twitter (@ATASciTech), and the ATA home page.

Division members are invited to submit proposals for webinars with a SciTech focus. Any webinar sponsored by the ATA should be able to attract an audience of 20 attendees or more.

Division members are invited to submit abstracts for sessions at future ATA annual conferences, following the instructions they receive by email from ATA Headquarters when the window for submitting proposals opens, and also to suggest topics of interest and to suggest potential speakers to any member of the leadership council or in the division’s online networking areas. The ATA can offer to defray travel expenses for division distinguished speakers; it was noted while speakers from outside the United States are good candidates, divisions are reminded that there is a vast pool of talent within the United States and that foreign travel stretches the conference budget. The 55th annual conference will be in Chicago, IL in November 2014, so speakers who live near the Chicago area are especially welcome. A Chicago-based member said he had contacts in Mechanical Engineering that we may be able to tap into for ATA55. Another member present suggested that he would welcome sessions related to nanotechnology.

The floor was yielded to open discussion. Amy Lesiewicz proposed a potential opportunity to approach the American Chemical Society: in their October 28 edition of the Chemical and Engineering News (the ACS weekly news publication), there was a one-page article on the ACS International Activities Division and their attempts to promote international collaboration among chemists. The article mentions language barriers as one of the obstacles they have faced and provided an email address to send suggestions or information. Amy Lesiewicz stated that she plans to approach the ACS as an individual; any members who would like to collaborate and approach the ACS as a group or team are welcome to contact her ( Fellow chemists and ACS members Matthew Schlecht and Karen Tkaczyk remarked that they had previously written a letter to the editor of the Chemical and Engineering News about chemist–translators and the letter was published.

Attendees then introduced themselves, stating their language pairs and areas of specialization. Attendees were invited to continue discussion over lunch at the neighboring Rivercenter (shopping mall) food court. The meeting was adjourned at 1:00 pm.

Minutes written by Amy Lesiewicz and approved by Alicja Yarborough and Karen Tkaczyk
Issued November 11, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ATA54 Session Preview: Time for a New Hip?

(Saturday, 8:30am-9:30am; Intermediate; Presented in: English)

Description from ATA website:
Many surgeons consider total hip joint replacement to be the greatest surgical advance in the second half of the 20th century. Translating documents related to orthopedic implants requires knowledge of medicine (anatomy, surgery, etc.) and engineering concepts. The speaker will review various types of hip implants, including how they are manufactured and implanted into a patient. Key terms and primary research strategies will be discussed using examples in French and English. The information provided will be useful to translators working on medical reports, legal claims, marketing material, regulatory filings, and clinical research articles involving the hip.

Additional information from Joanne:
I want translators to come away from my session with a better understanding of total hip replacement procedures. My presentation assumes that the audience has been involved in medical translation for a few years, so that we can go more deeply into the specifics of hip implants (what they are, how they are made, how they are implanted). I will also be discussing some of the current issues surrounding hip replacement, reviewing key French and English terms in this area and outlining how I would go about finding the EN equivalent to a rarely-used FR term.

I will be handing out an orthopedic surgery specific FR-EN glossary. Even if you don't work in this language pair, the EN side of this glossary should be useful to you because it lists the "correct" EN term to use in your translations.

For those who cannot attend, you can look at this 3-minute surgical animation that I will be using in my presentation and email me for my glossary.